Produce Profile: How to Navigate Eggplant from Selection to Preparation
July to October is peak season — yet the purple veg piques flavourful interest year-round
When a vegetable’s known by two names — eggplant and aubergine — you can bet that it’s special. Especially, besides partially contradicting its own name — how “eggsactly” do you “eggsplain” the egg part? — it’s not a vegetable per se.
What Is Eggplant and How Is It Prepared?
While it’s certainly not poultry-related, either, most people are acquainted with eggplant as a vegetable. However, technically, it’s a berry, which helps to explain the series of small seeds in its white flesh — edible yet bitter.
If the world of agricultural botany could not yet get any more complicated, eggplant is also related to the nightshade family — with potatoes and tomatoes close in its close circle.
In fact, this relationship demonstrates why these ingredients often work so well together. Hailing from Italy, eggplant parmigiana is an exemplary dish of this flavourful collaboration.
Elsewhere, from mouth-watering moussaka to moreish baba ghanouj, these Mediterranean and Middle Eastern specialties sumptuously spotlight just how much promise is behind the purple skin as well — there’s tons of flavour.
Full of flavour once cooked, eggplant is positively perfect for meat-eaters and plant-based folks alike. In particular, its chewy texture makes it an excellent meat substitute in a lot of vegan and vegetarian applications.
Thanks to its decently mild flavour and sponge like texture, it also takes to the flavour of the seasonings that you introduce to it very well. And it takes on various textural transformations, depending on how exactly it’s cooked.
Chinese cuisine elevates the beautiful silky texture of cooked eggplant in spicy steamed, stir-fried, and braised preparations; whereas, with Indian dishes, eggplant is the star of several delicious curries.
How Do You Pick and Prepare Eggplant?
To get to the deliciousness, you shouldn’t have to peel away the skin in most cases. In fact, if your eggplant isn’t on the older and larger side, you should avoid removing the beautiful layer altogether — because it adds wonderful contrast in texture and colour to your dish.
Although the skins of smaller varieties typically run thinner and tender, always be on the lookout for shine, smoothness, and spotlessness with eggplants — the tauter the skin, the better as well.
Yet the aging process can be a bummer. You’ll always come across wrinkled and spent eggplants in the pile. And it’s indicative of inferior quality.
With an older harvest date, chances are that they’ll be bitter, and that could work against your balance of flavours.
Interestingly, their seeds further contain trace levels of nicotine — try telling your friends and family about that one — which gives them a bitter flavour that can be offputting for some people.
To cut down on the bitterness, cut your eggplants, and place them in a colander over the sink; season and toss them with a liberal amount of salt; and then let them stand for a minimum of 30 minutes before cooking — an hour is best.
Afterwards, you can lightly rinse them under running cold water, followed by carefully blotting away as much extra moisture as possible with a tea towel.
Unless the eggplants are cut in large planks or pieces per the recipe, it’s otherwise difficult to skip the rinsing part — wiping numerous slices, cubes, or sticks with a damp towel is quite tedious.
During this time, the salt will help to, in turn, draw out any bitterness and excess moisture along with it. Plus, it will help to more comprehensively season them, ensuring that the true essence of the eggplant comes through.
Thankfully, through agricultural innovation and technology, eggplants aren’t as bitter as they used to be, thanks to selective breeding best practices.
In a nutshell, this means that you can happily skip the whole salting process, if you’re pressed for time — but note that this still doesn’t solve the excess moisture. And you won’t otherwise have an interior that’s as well seasoned as the exterior.
What Are the Health Benefits of Eggplant?
As an ingredient that can work in a variety of ways, it’s equally generous with offering vitamins C, K and B1, in addition to minerals such as copper, phosphorus and magnesium.
Besides a rich source of fibre, the peel itself — hence keeping it on comes with its many benefits — supplies antioxidants.
The next time you’re at the grocery store, grab some aubergines, as Jamie Oliver would say, to enjoy in one of his many aubergine recipes.